The U.S.A. is the driving force in copyright extensions as well as persecution of "infringers" and "pirates". Other countries are often willing to follow (see for example ACTA). In the U.S. constitution, it is declared that:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries
That is why it has been extended, since eternal copyright (or other intellectual property) is unconstitutional. It is well-nigh impossible to make laws that blatantly contradict the constitution. It hasn't stopped the Supreme court (votes: 7-2) from in 2003 to argue that repeated (and retroactive at that) extensions, are not unconstitutional. Repeated extensions making copyright last multiple generations is not against the constitution, but in my opinion, is based on dishonest reasoning. There is such a thing as spirit of the law, and since the constitution is so important in the US, it is the spirit of the constitution that counts, unless it is blatantly false and unscientific. To really push the argument against the spirit is intellectually dishonest.
How the right can exist when the author's earthly life has ended, is beyond me. How can securing an "exclusive right" to an author give rights to the author's inheritors after he or she is gone? To me it is mind-boggling. Does the inheritor somehow represent the deceased author's ghost? I wonder if the Supreme courts judges believe in ghosts?
Is there money in heaven?
To extend it retroactively is absurd. How can one "motivate" creators decades after creation, even decades after they are dead? Project Runeberg, which is like a Project Gutenberg for Scandinavian literature, states on its main page Welcome back, Selma Lagerlöf!, who is one of Sweden's most celebrated authors of the last century. She lived 1858-1940. Her books became public domain in 1991, but after retroactive extension in 1996, they were not public domain anymore. THAT is theft! Well now her works are public domain again. It is just weird, it is dumb, it primitive. Who shall we thank? Sonny Bono?
The problem is not 9 supreme idiots deciding idiocy. It is 9 (well 5 suffice to be honest) idiots, via politicians and lobbyists, in practice (in the present order of things) deciding this for the rest of the world.
One does not need to be a copyright abolitionist to see how absurd the idea of perpetual copyright is.
Why should I pay for old copyrighted work when the author is dead? The extension of copyright to 70 years after the creator's death (the Sonny Bono Act, also called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act) is not just absurd, it is morbid. Why should people who might not even have met, nor read, the author, sit and decide 50+ years after author's death, that you have to pay to read? That is a mindset of greed and censorship. The public domain grew for hundreds of years, now it seems that politicians and lobbyists just hate it. I am not a total copyright abolisher (not yet at least), but copyright should be limited in time, not related to a creator's lifespan, and non-transferrable.
Like most people, I used to take copyright (and patents) as a fact of life, like something unproblematic and natural. It has been the pirate movement that really brought these questions to the public eye, even if a lot of the debate drowned in counter attacks by the copyright propagandists.
One dead poet: W.H. Auden
My perspective on this is not original, but what really pushed me to write this, what struck me as not only corrupt and dishonest, but absurd, silly and morbid, was me coming to think of W.H. Auden. I have heard of him for a very long time, never read him, or what type of author he was, or even what genres he wrote in. Something made me check what he was about ("was" as I was pretty sure he was dead), which is easy thanks to Internet, that great culture creator and distributor. First I read a bit on Wikipedia (the highest ranking page on the search engine), then I arrived at The W.H. Auden Society, which is a congregation of people who (I assume) love his texts: "The W. H. Auden Society commemorates the life and work of one of the greatest poets in the English language". Well, real fans can of course exaggerate, but it is always nice to see what nerds (in the best sense of the word) has to say. Passion and love for cultural works can be inspiring and also make the newcomer understand and appriciate the stuff more. I get curious. One of the pages is "Poems". So I go there and hope to read some poems. Well, it is there declared that: "Because of copyright restrictions, no texts of Auden's poems are posted on this site. Links are provided below to poems posted on other sites with the permission of Auden's estate.". There are links to other web sites that have some Auden poems for reading.
Okay, Auden lived 1907-1973. He published not only poetry, but also essays and librettos, among other things. He did not have any children, but two brothers, according to Wikipedia. It wasn't like he died young with a starving family who published his manuscripts, or some such. Some of his work is 70, 80 years old. He left this life 38 years ago. And still, the Auden Society cannot freely put a poem of his on their web site. That is just grotesque. They do not say that, but I do. On their site there is a page about copyright. It seems most copyright is held by his respective publishers. Well, "his" is maybe sounding too personal, I doubt many who worked with him in publishing are employed there anymore, not even alive today. So impersonal corporations have total power of old works by an author that few of their employees even met. That they claim copyright over those works is nothing short of morbid. There is also an "estate" of Auden. He didn't have any descendants, so i do not know what that consists of.
If s/he earned money from a book for say 40 years, why should other people get money from it after the author's death? It is not a resource like a company or farm, which can provide income if there is some work done. The novel is done and finished decades ago. It lives in reader's imaginations and memories, maybe even helped form their worldview. Why should someone, who did not even write it, maybe not even read it, control how it is distributed and used? That is just greedy and/or control-freakish, in my opinion. As soon as something is published, the concepts of ownership and property is not the same as that of material things. To want to affect people with culture, and then claim ownership of it for in practice can be published a hundred years ago is so arrogant and sick. It is morbid.
People who like extensions of copyright actually just prove they suck and try to live off old success. Release it, let go, let it be freely used and remixed. That is what culture is about. Intertextuality and intersubjectivity.
I have taken W.H. Auden as an example, but there are plenty of similar situations. I can't say I want to buy a book by him. These copyright trolls made me uninterested. Those holding his rights, or.. well... "his" rights.. he is long dead, isn't he? Their rights. They are not worth a penny. They are not creators.
It would be dishonest to ascribe to Auden stuff he didn't think, nor write, nor do. That is, if not his right, the decent approach, even if he is dead. But I can't see it is dishonest to use his texts freely in any way possible. However, since that the present legal system is one of monopoly and morbidity, he is made less relevant in my opinion. Back to real classics, or living authors. Greed is never good.
There is no money in heaven, but there seems to be manna from heaven. For non-creative copyright holders.